President’s Column: A Book for Sore Eyes
Those of us in the pro-Israel community often complain that the media focus on Israel is too negative, always concentrating on conflict. But we spend so much time playing defense that sometimes we fall into the same mindset. Maybe that’s why it’s always refreshing to arrive in Israel and suddenly be reminded of the full context of the country’s daily life—the joy as well as the sorrow, the accomplishment as well as the conflict.
And maybe this need to see the texture of Israeli reality accounts for the buzz around a new book,Startup Nation: The Story of Israel’s Economic Miracle (Twelve/Hachette), by Dan Senor and Saul Singer. The book focuses on Israel’s global leadership in high tech and the culture that produced success. It’s the most upbeat book about Israel in a long time.
Consider that Israel has more companies listed on the NASDAQ than all of the European countries combined. Consider that per capita venture capital investment in Israel is more than double what it is in America and more than 30 times the rate in Europe. Consider that in the recent global financial crisis, Israel has fared especially well—and that Israelis already have universal health insurance.
Startup Nation is garnering lots of attention from the mainstream media, and part of the story is Israel being touted as a model from which other advanced, democratic nations, especially the United States, can learn.
Most of the ingredients of Israel’s success are familiar. Universal military service fosters a sense of national belonging and also gives young people heavy responsibilities that most people their age around the world never have to shoulder. Delaying university until after army service means that students are more mature and better able to take advantage of their education. Israel views immigration as the highest value and a boon to the nation. The value of questioning and debate in the army, the university, business and politics are deeply rooted in Jewish culture.
Not every facet of Israel’s culture of success can readily be adopted by others. But unlike Japan, which was seen as an economic model to emulate in the 1980s, much of Israel’s experience does look familiar to Americans. Look at all the positives that resulted from universal military service in the United States during and after World War II: A society of disparate groups knit itself together for a common purpose. Every family had a stake in the nation’s defense and could relate to every other family. After the war, the G.I. Bill put mature veterans into colleges and the nation reaped the reward.
While the United States was built by immigrants, America’s attitude toward newcomers goes through sweet and sour cycles—as if we can’t make up our minds about our own history. Israel has no such ambivalence. Much of America’s immigration bureaucracy is designed to keep people out. Most of Israel’s is designed to bring people in.
The story of Israel’s economic miracle also reminds us—as if we needed reminding—of the proud role Hadassah has played in the nation’s growth and development. We are builders of infrastructure and pillars of excellence.
Yes, Israel has universal health care, and Hadassah sets the standards of excellence for providing that care. Yes, Israel does a generally good job of educating its population. But Hadassah College Jerusalem is uniquely positioned to direct students into the fastest growing economic niches. And our Youth Aliyah centers are in place to teach youngsters who need the most help.
Hadassah built Israel’s medical infrastructure and much of its social welfare foundation. But our relationship with Israel has long since evolved from one of pure philanthropy to one of partnership. We play a key role in nurturing the society and in its medical and educational R&D. And we also maintain the connection—crucial to both sides—between Israel and American Jewry.
Every nation has its own culture and way of doing things. But America’s challenges demand solutions and Israel’s success does offer some powerful suggestions: Create a culture that encourages innovation; find ways to bind citizens to one another and to common values; don’t erect barriers that are too high.
One more thing: When you see nothing but headlines with bad news, make sure you look beneath the surface at the full spectrum of daily life. H